Whatís the trade-off for consolidation?

Thereís an old proverb that says when pride comes, then comes disgrace. The harmful implications of pride have been heeded in religion, fables, folklore, and mythology for as long as mans has been writing history.

Yet in the face of it all, we still teach pride. In fact, we encourage pride because we know without it, we as individuals couldnít be successful, and the existence of a vibrant, welcoming, and genuinely appealing community is put at risk (as demonstrated by anyone who chooses to wear pajama bottoms out in public places, or people who casually use profanity like itís socially acceptable).

Of course, the type of pride we embrace refers to our feeling of prosperity and self-worth, not the aforementioned hubris thatís known to even have brought down the mighty Roman Empire. Even so, thereís a blurry line in the twofold word that gets treaded even in the local political scene, especially whenever the idea of consolidation is brought up.

Consolidation. The word itself brings up so many unanswered questions for Chenango County that have been part of an ongoing debate for years. As a non-expert in government, itís not fair of me to offer a definitive explanation as to why that debate hasnít yielded results. But as a taxpayer, I canít help but feel that pride and stubbornness get in the way Ė the pride of local officials and the stubbornness of small communities that donít want to let go of tradition. It seems that in a county of only 50,000 people, 21 townships, eight villages and one city Ė each with their own operational system Ė there would be room for consolidation, or at least sincere efforts to explore the possibility. But the closest efforts Iíve seen come from the City of Norwich and Town of Norwich, which share an agreement for water and wastewater services. And of course, the occasional shared highway equipment between various municipalities throughout the county.

In a time everyone is forced to do more with less, Chenango County is trying to serve too few people by using too much. Admittedly, there was a time when multiple government agencies made the most sense Ė when people made hours-long journeys by horse and carriage, and the now unemployed carrier pigeons could still find plenty of work. But this is a new era, with new possibilities and new methodologies of local governance. Consolidation of services Ė police, fire department, highway, education, clerks, planning, and everything in between Ė can potentially save hundreds of thousands of dollars, and I believe the resources to consolidate effectively and efficiently do exist.

Itís tempting to assume that fewer large governments are less costly than many small ones, but I know thatís not always the case. Like anything else, thereís sure to be trade-offs that are associated with consolidation. The question is, how will the public know whether or not those trade-offs are worth the gains if talks of consolidation are continually put off? How can anyone advocate or speak against consolidation if they donít know the basic pros and cons? More importantly, is it only pride that stands the way between taxpayers and potential savings, or is there a better reason?

In the grand scheme of things, I canít say for sure that pride and a sense of tradition is the only thing keeping local government from considering consolidation. I just want to know that ignoring the idea isnít the same as throwing money in a rat hole.

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